What Rush Limbaugh meant to conservatives

Some years ago I was reading a magazine profile of a radio talk show host who was popular but not a household name. His politics were conservative but idiosyncratic, not as reliably Republican as his peers. Nevertheless, his description of the first time he heard Rush Limbaugh reminded me of interviews in which punk rock musicians spoke with uncharacteristic reverence about the first time they listened to The Beatles.

Limbaugh’s death at the age of 70 after a long battle with lung cancer will be another reminder, as if more were needed, of the stark red-blue divide in America. Suffice it to say a cursory glance at social media, which I don’t recommend, will reveal strikingly polarized reactions to his passing, unlike the deaths of any ex-Beatle.

Rush was an eager combatant in these culture wars and wouldn’t have expected anything less. From the moment Bill Clinton took office in 1993, Limbaugh, then barely five years into national syndication, kicked off each show with a countdown of “America held hostage.” He also used this shtick in his shorter-lived television program. “This show, taking its cue from Nightline, will be here for every night of this crisis,” he deadpanned.

It’s easy to forget how much he reshaped the talk radio landscape. Limbaugh was on the air for three hours a day. He was a national rather than local figure. He rarely had guests, and many he did have were high-ranking Republicans who called in themselves. His show was news- and event-driven, as opposed to editorializing on a specific subject for each segment.

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Broadcast to millions, Limbaugh was more overtly partisan than Paul Harvey, who preferred brief homespun monologues. His show was more populist and unabashedly lowbrow than William F. Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line, though he obviously admired the National Review founder very much and sought to popularize more sophisticated conservative arguments. One of his frequent guest hosts was Walter Williams, a libertarian-leaning economics professor whose academic credentials were deeper and politics more radical. (Williams also died earlier this year.) This is part of how Limbaugh retained the admiration of even some who came to view his approach to politics as too simplistic, like that Sex Pistols fan who still enjoys Rubber Soul.

Yes, Limbaugh was a conservative movement true believer who “fangirled” over Buckley and Ronald Reagan as much as his average listener would have. But unlike a lot of his imitators, he never forgot he was an entertainer first. His skits and songs were often more memorable than his hot takes on the ephemeral controversies of the day.

There was the presentation of Al Gore as a Forrest Gump-like figure: “I’m Forrest, Forrest Gore.” The Bill Clinton impersonator singing a parody of The Beatles’ “All My Loving”: “All your money, I will tax from you/All your money, I need revenue.” The show featured a send-up of Clinton’s controversial surgeon general, Jocelyn Elders, to the tune of the Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl”: “She wants to ban cigarettes/And legalize …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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